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Editing and Proofreading Your Book

The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Memoir, Chapter 5

This is the fifth part of our 'Ultimate Guide to Writing a Memoir.'
To access the rest of the guide, click here.

Congratulations! You’ve written your book. All that’s left to do is make sure it all makes sense – and you’re ready to print. But where do you start? To many people, editing and proofreading are the same thing. This is a common misconception:

Editing comes first, after you’ve written your first draft. Editing is all about the actual content of the writing, and involves making sure your ideas are expressed logically, in a clear and coherent narrative. This article will tell you exactly how to edit your book.

Proofreading comes after the editing process, and is less about content, more about language. It involves checking over spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors, as well as format.


Before you edit:

We’re sure you’ll be thrilled to hear that the first step after you’ve written your story is, actually, to do nothing at all. Take a break! It’s a good idea to have some space from your writing so that when you do revisit, you’re able to read the story with fresh eyes.

Once you’re ready, before you change a word, read through the whole story. You will have been staring at your work, likely on a computer, for weeks or months. We recommend that you change the format for this first read-through. Try changing the typeface and font size to make the words less recognizable. If you can, print the whole thing out – so you can get out of the screen, and jot down some notes without actually changing anything. This also makes the manuscript easier to read. Of course, printing out an entire biography may not be possible, and some people do prefer to read on-screen, so do whatever suits you.

While editing:

In terms of the editing process, the best way to approach your project is one step at a time. Ask yourself the following questions, and don’t be alarmed if it feels like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you – editing can involve major changes or even a complete rewrite:

Does the opening paragraph clearly indicate the purpose of the text?

Is there a clear purpose throughout the text?

Is every sentence relevant to the purpose of the text?

Does each paragraph contain one idea?

Does the text flow logically?

Have you used a varied sentence structure and vocabulary?

Have you used an appropriate tone for your reader?

Does the last paragraph satisfyingly conclude the story?

After editing:

Take another break. Let someone else do the work for you! After you’ve edited your story, find a friend or family member that you trust to read through your book. Showing someone else your work and getting feedback is an important stage of the process, because it gives you an insight into what your audience might think of your book when it’s finished. Up until now, you’ve been the only person that’s read your story, and a fresh pair of eyes could point out a fundamental error that you might have missed, or amend part of a story you remembered incorrectly.

If you aren’t sure who to ask, or you don’t feel that anyone you know is suitable, why not ask a professional?

Pencil poking out from a book  

Before you proofread:

Have you finished editing? There’s no point in proofreading if you’re going to make further changes to the text or the structure of your book. It’s a good idea to design your book first, including photographs, layout and format, which you can find out more about in Chapter 7.

Next, establish what you’re looking for when you’re proofreading. What are your common mistakes? Make a list to stay focused when reading: spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors, as well as consistent use of language, style, and formating.

It is also advisable to take another break before you start proofreading, to distance you from the writing. Take a day, at least, to recuperate.

While proofreading:

Reading out loud helps you spot errors and run-on sentences that reading silently risks missing. If you’d prefer, read from a printout, and use a blank sheet of paper to cover the lines below the one you’re reading to decrease your chances of missing mistakes. On-screen, use search functions to pick out common mistakes. For example, if you frequently confuse “it’s” and “its”, search "it" to check for errors.


You’ve read your story for the final time, you’ve made all the relevant changes, and everything looks perfect! What else could you possibly have left to do?


Read Chapter 6: How To Digitize Your Photos

Written by Sarah Evans
Image credits: by Horia Varlan and LiveandRock

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